Setting Tables: Eating, Social Boundaries and Intercultural Transfers

The research group aims at exploring the construction of socio-cultural boundaries through practices of eating and abstinence. Most studies in the humanities and social sciences tend to emphasize the subject-object relationships between people and the foodstuffs they procure and consume. These relationships span from individuals' food-consumption patterns, through collective symbolic meanings of various foods, to the ideologies that render these meanings commonsensical (kosher dietary restrictions, veganism, ethical consumption) and, finally, the political-economies that organize the production, diffusion and consumption of food. Despite the significance of such approaches, our group will focus on a less-researched topic - practices of eating from a comparative perspective.

We, will address the dynamic and contested social realm of eating by analytically intersecting the physical as, well as the normative dimensions  of eating practices. The physical dimension emphasizes the ways in which shared meanings that constitute subjects, communities and social hierarchies are engendered in domestic, urban and political spaces, here eating takes place. Specifically, group members will address the material and non-material qualities of eating, such as spatial events, private/public boundaries in eating, intercultural contacts of eating rituals, and the production of socio-cultural boudaries inspace. The normative dimension examines how eating practices in diverse historical and cultural contexts are regulated so as to maintain social order, cohesion and group identity in dynamic social and cultural settings.

Group members ,will tackle normative issues such as implicit and explicit forms of eating regulations, textual constructions of communal eating, eating as a means of  defining the "other", and the role of voluntary abstinence in the shaping of religious outlooks. Members in the group have different research interests and perspectives: textual-historical (Furstenberg), material-archaeological (Weiss), literary-philological (Wasserman) and sociological­ anthropological (Kaplan).  Our individual projects, within our separate disciplines are expected to generate meaningful dialogue that will not only shed light on deficiencies in the research of eating practices within their social and cultural dimensions, but will hopefully lead to equally meaningful ways addressing these deficiencies. This unique amalgamation is meant to foster a much-needed interdisciplinary discussion in the emerging field of food studies.